Firms convicted over Marks and Spencer asbestos risks
A CONTRACTOR who worked on the major refurbishment of Marks and Spencer in Bournemouth town centre four years ago has been convicted of putting workers and shoppers at risk of being exposed to asbestos.
After a 14-week trial at Winchester Crown Court, Marks and Spencer itself was acquitted of four alleged breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act relating to its Bournemouth and Plymouth stores.
But it was found guilty of breaching two sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act relating to staff, members of the public and other workers at the Reading store.
The court heard the principal contractor at Bournemouth, Wilmott Dixon Construction, failed to plan, manage and monitor the removal of asbestos-containing materials.
It also did not prevent the possibility of asbestos being disturbed by its workers in areas that had not been surveyed extensively. The Hertfordshire company was found guilty of contravening two sections of the Health and Safety at Work Act at the Commercial Road store during February 2007.
The court was told that Marks and Spencer did not allow enough time and space to remove asbestos-containing materials at the Reading store.
Witnesses said areas cleaned by PA Realisations were re-contaminated by air moving through the gap between the ceiling tiles and the floor above, and by poor standards of work.
Manchester-based PA Realisations, formerly Pectel, was found guilty of contravening asbestos at work regulations at Reading.
A fourth company, Cheshire-based Styles & Wood Limited, had already admitted two breaches of the health and safety at work act at Reading.
All will be sentenced at Winchester on September 26.
Asbestos is the biggest single cause of work-related deaths in the UK, killing an estimated 4,000 people every year.
After the hearing, HSE Principal Inspector Charles Gilby said: “This prosecution exposed serious failures by Marks and Spencer and its contractors. “There are very real lessons here for the country’s large retailers and other organisations engaging in programmes of refurbishment.”
A spokesman for Marks and Spencer said it was “disappointed” with the verdict over the Reading store and was considering its position. “We are unable to comment further until after sentencing, later this year,” he added.
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